Fire Starters

Boldness, clarity and wisdom for fundraising professionals

The Thank You Letter That Shocked Me

I’m old school and I love to receive thank you notes. The handwritten kind that show the person who wrote it took some time to think about what they would say to me. While I do receive handwritten thank you notes that make me smile and feel great, it’s not often I receive a computer printed thank you letter that stands out. Most often they are form letters that are pretty ho hum. Most thank you letters I receive are simply letting me know the person or organization is doing their due diligence by adding a few words of thank you to the tax-deduction notification for the IRS. But I got a letter last week that caused shock and awe in our house. I recently purchased a monthly service for my business. We’ve been working to get a new free training webinar up and online (coming soon!) and so I really didn’t think about the company after we got logged in to the service and started our work with them. Just a few days after the online sign-up I received a thank you letter from the owner of the company. Take a read. . . I read this letter twice through immediately because it was so authentic and fun. And I’ve shared this letter with five other people. Yes, I do understand that lots of people probably receive this same letter. But I have to tell you, I don’t care. I felt great when I read it. It felt fun and personal. And like it mattered to this company that I became a client. My questions to you: 1....

Your Actions May Be Disempowering Your Nonprofit Board

Have you ever heard a young child emphatically say: I. Can. Do. It. Myself. when you attempt to help them with a task they are truly invested in completing themselves? Because you are in a rush to get out the door you “help” them put on their boots or zip their coat or you tug those mittens on for them. Then the tears or temper tantrum show up, right? The tears or temper tantrum show up because they’re feeling disempowered. You’ve asked them to do things on their own. You’ve even patiently shown them HOW to do that exact task. Yet, in your rush to get somewhere, you take over. What does this have to do with your nonprofit board? A long-time mentor once told me, “When you rescue someone, you disempower them.” Let me give you an example (based on a true story). Lois is a retired nonprofit executive who offered to tackle the project of getting some materials completed (final copy written, proofed, and printed) for a small arts organization. The $5+ million campaign is the largest the organization will ever undertake. Lois, in her professional and volunteer work, has successfully completed all aspects of many multi-million capital and annual campaigns. She was delighted to take on the project management of this small, but important project. The organization’s staff of four, all program positions, had never handled a project of this type for a capital campaign. Taking the project off their hands made her proud. It made her feel as though she was making a significant difference. Lois is a good writer. She’s excellent at follow-up and...

I Often Take Care of Others Better Than I Take Care of Myself. Do You?

I’m proud of how many people and nonprofit organizations I have the honor to work with each year. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been a “helper.” I’m the oldest of four children and was the best babysitter in my neighborhood for years. Families would call me in July to book me for New Year’s Eve. True! I get an amazing feeling of gratitude inside when I help others. And I crave that feeling. What I found though, over the years, is that I put myself last on the “taking care of” list. As frequent readers of this blog know, I was very sick about four years ago. My cancer health scare SHOULD have knocked me upside the head to include myself in the caring category. But alas, it did not. Immediately following my surgeries and throughout the next couple of years I kept a pretty steady pace of doing, traveling, and rushing through my day. I overextended myself even more by volunteering my time and providing pro-bono coaching hours, often. And then in January 2015, my spouse Mark, fell and broke his back. HIS health scare totally rocked my world. And while it took months to get into a less frenetic pace, (there are a lot of steps to caring for someone who is healing a broken back!) I believe and feel at peace with how much better I’m taking care of me these days. What I learned the hard way when Mark was needing care was, if I was not adequately fed, rested, and healthy, I was no good to him OR me. So today nearly...

Skip the Nonprofit Silent Auction. Put your Focus on Fund a Need

This week I’m honored to share a guest post by benefit auctioneer Sherry Truhlar, who is our guest speaker for the January 21st Ignited Fundraising Community webinar, Fund-A-Need Secrets to Thousands of Dollars. As a benefit auctioneer, I oversaw 54 nonprofit fundraising events last year. Six of them had no auction. Go figure. I was an auctioneer working at events with no auctions. Here’s what I was doing: I oversaw a process called a Fund a Need. The Fund a Need, or FAN for short, is called by many names — Special Appeal, Paddle Raisers, Mission Moments, to mention a few. It’s a process for soliciting spontaneous donations at your event. It typically raises thousands of dollars, even at the smallest of my events. That’s a hunk of change. What I’d like to propose today is that small nonprofits consider the possibility of eliminating their silent auctions and instead getting really, really good at running Fund a Needs. Here are four reasons you might want to skip the silent auction and focus on the FAN. 1. Less manpower needed. Running a silent auction takes a team of volunteers and/or staff. They are tasked with soliciting items, packaging items, displaying packages, staffing the tables, closing the tables, delivering the items, and … whew! The work starts months in advance. Contrast that with a Fund a Need. For many groups, in less than 8 hours of pre-event work, they run a strong Fund a Need whose revenues will rival or surpass many small silent auctions. 2. Showcase your mission. I’ve seen a few silent auctions which had such well-curated items that...

Plan Your Way to Skyrocketing Past Your Nonprofit Fundraising Goals

What are you committed to this year? Working smarter? Raising more money? Engaging your board to take some important development tasks off your shoulders? If you have a job as a fundraiser or you are the Executive Director of a nonprofit then you know how important it is to raise all the money you need to run your organization. Being a fundraising professional means you are ALWAYS looking for ways to raise more while keeping the donors you already have. But many in our sector were not trained in what it takes to reach or exceed our goals each year. Maybe you were the program officer and you’ve risen to top position at your organization? Or maybe you were hired as a part-time development coordinator and now lead your fundraising team? And most importantly, no matter what your title is, you simply have not had time to put pen to paper (or hands to the keyboard!) and figure out what it will take to meet or exceed your fundraising goals this year? I am here to help. And I’m committed to your success. I know exactly what it takes to draft or update your fundraising plan because I’ve done it myself when I was an Executive Director and Development Director. And I’ve personally taught other people how to create a plan that doesn’t just work. It rocks! What if I told you a new report shows that creating a fundraising plan is THE key if you want to increase your fundraising from individual donors? Heather Yandow says on Stanford Social Review on December 1, 2015: “the nonprofits I studied...

Make Fundraising in 2016 Better than Ever

You’ve worked hard in 2015, I know. And if you’re like me, you’re already looking forward to making 2016 great. What are you excited about for 2016? I have a lot of exciting plans for 2016 including a few travel opportunities that I’m really jazzed about. Let me know what you’re looking forward to on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you! To get your 2016 fundraising started on a spectacular note, I want to make sure you have the support you need on your journey to doing big things this year. So with that in mind, you can save 15% on everything in the Ignited Fundraising store when you enter code goodbye2015. That’s right! You get 15% off everything in the Ignited Fundraising Store when you enter code goodbye2015! Here’s a few ideas for you. The Complete Storytelling System Would you believe you can increase your fundraising by 700%?! The word choices you make affects everything…community support, board engagement, fundraising. Join the hundreds of organizations that invested in this system in 2015 and ignited their board members to actually HELP with fund development work by using these tools. The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits I’m honored to be a co-author with 7 of my colleagues–some heavy weights in the nonprofit consulting world–of this collection of best practices, worksheets and tools. This is an awesome tool for executive directors and fund development staff.   Nine Steps to a Successful Fundraising Campaign Nine powerful stories about what it REALLY takes to have not only a successful fundraising campaign, but a successful nonprofit organization. This power-packed paperback book,...

7 Ways to Make Your Donors Feel Great Today

You have an opportunity, every time someone clicks on that donate button and sends you a gift, or they take time to write out a check and send you their gift through the mail. The opportunity is to make them FEEL GREAT for the action they just took. Unfortunately, donor acknowledgment doesn’t get much discussion or planning time at many organizations. The letters get printed and signed and shipped out but no one makes sure they are doing their real job. It’s been a few years now, but I still remember sitting at my desk, after just making a $100 or so contribution to a local organization that tugs at my heart with their incredible work. It was less than 2 seconds and into my inbox popped the email titled: You helped a child today. WOW. I was shocked at how poignant the subject line was. I opened the message quickly and went on to read a short message from the Executive Director before all the regular online contribution mumbo jumbo. I have to say, I felt so terrific when I saw that email come in, I actually felt like making another contribution so I could get that warm feeling again! As you draft your thank you letters or craft that auto email reply please pay attention. Please take the time to put some of your real feelings into them. Here are my 7 suggestions for upping the game in your donor acknowledgement by causing your supporters to FEEL GREAT: 1. Craft a meaningful subject line that is authentic and about your mission. e.g. You helped a child today...

How to Transition Your GivingTuesday Campaign into Successful Year-End Giving

Yesterday, December 1st, was GivingTuesday, an exciting addition to the year-end giving season. Remember it’s important to pay attention to the messages you are sending donors right up until the year ends. To help we some ideas, I’m honored to present this guest post by Candace Cody from CauseVox. Guest post by Candace Cody GivingTuesday 2015 is officially in the history books, and it offered a great experience for your nonprofit. But, your mind is immediately jumping to what’s next. Knowing that nonprofits receive 50% of their annual donations between October and December, you want to keep this GivingTuesday snowball rolling into an exceptional year-end giving campaign. Luckily, using GivingTuesday as your lead-in to your year-end ask is a completely natural and effective fit. Here’s a few steps to leveraging that GivingTuesday momentum for your best year-end campaign yet! A. Tweak Your Branding and Messaging Using images, posts, and messages that are still branded with the GivingTuesday identity will just make you look sloppy and out of touch. So, take the time to make any necessary tweaks to your materials. Even if your fundraising goal, narrative, and overall campaign stay the exact same, it’s important to keep all of your promotional tools up-to-date! B. Choose Your Methods Conversing and engaging with the supporters who donated to your GivingTuesday campaign is going to be crucial for the success of your year-end ask, and there are numerous ways you can connect with them. Before crafting your messaging, determine what methods you’ll use in order to spread awareness. Here are a few ideas: Send a series of emails Craft engaging social posts...

Shift Your Fundraising from Scarcity to Possibility: Change Your Words For a Better Outcome

People often refer to me as a fundraising coach. And I am. My work and mission are to help people in the nonprofit or social sector raise more money. The truth is most often I find my work focused on helping people change their language from scarcity to possibility. I find it’s too big a leap to go from scarcity language to abundance language right away. So I focus on possibility language first. When I’m invited to work with staff or board members I ask lots of questions that shine a spotlight on day-to-day communications. Pretty quickly people begin to notice their word choices make a huge difference in their fundraising, in raising awareness, in their donor retention, and even in their board engagement. The simple question I ask most often when I’ve been brought in to help an organization raise more money is: How can you reframe your comment or question to come from possibility rather than scarcity? The question alone raises eyebrows and sometimes causes people to get a little defensive. Most folks don’t want to appear as though they intentionally come from a lens of scarcity. To make this easy to understand I focus on the word choices I’ve heard throughout our time together. Here are some phrases most often repeated in new client meetings: Our goal is too big or There is NO way we can reach our goal. I don’t have enough time to get it all done. Our board doesn’t do anything we ask of them. I believe and have tons of evidence that the words we choose are seeds to the outcome. When...

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